An Old Fantasy

I have loved fantasy stories for years, Ive read a fair few fantasy books and played in a lot of fantasy RPGs and I’ve always considered myself to have a pretty good understanding of the actual building blocks of the fantasy genre. You know the sort of thing; Orks in caves, heroes on adventures, odd people living in the woods just round the corner from a nasty troll and a field of carnivorous plants with a sleep-inducing scent. Good, fun fantasy daftness. A little while back though I realised that I couldn’t place exactly where this knowledge of Fantasy came from.

It wasn’t from video games because the only fantasy games I can remember playing as a kid were Zelda: Links Awakening and Lords of Midnight. Both were great but neither is exactly complex. I can remember reading Lord of the Rings and the Narnia Chronicles when I was quite young but they are both far more stuffy that the vast monster-populated grasslands and forests that I see whenever I close my eyes. Dungeons and Dragons or maybe even Warhammer seemed likely culprits but thinking back, I came to them with this idea of what fantasy should be already formed. Finally, it clicked. It was all those bloody Fighting Fantasy gamebooks that I used to play!

I’m not sure how old I was when I played them all, maybe eight or nine, but I played a lot of them. Some I can remember quite well – The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Forest of Doom, Creature of Havok, Moonrunner – others less well but it was when I found the four books of their Sorcery series that I knew I had found exactly where I had begun exploring these worlds. Flicking through the books each one of the long forgotten pictures (gorgeous black&white pieces by John Blanche) turned out to be one to the landscapes that I’ve had bouncing around in my head for years. The text is every bit as good bringing together all the bizarre encounters with such enthusiasm that you can’t help but be sucked in to the adventure. More than any others, these four books still hold up today and they are well worth hunting out if you are interested.

Soon after this I got into a discussion at RPG.net about the rules system for the Advanced Fighting Fantasy roleplaying game, basically a multiplayer version of the gamebooks. People were wondering if it could be a good rules-light system for short fun games but talk quickly turned to the game’s crippling flaws. The AFF books made for a nice set but they didn’t quite work.

Soon after that a friend asked me to run a game of AFF (with a few rules fixes) which I was more than happy to do. The short campaign finished last night and while the game was less than fantastic with a few slow points throughout the finale was awesome. I am particularly proud that after the epilogue one of the two surviving players thought that they had saved the world with the other was convinced that he had failed and had simply destroyed the world that he loved. Nice.

Two things came from this campaign. Firstly I now have a reasonable set of rules modifications for the Fighting Fantasy system which I would recommend using should anyone be considering using it for a game and I may post them up here. Secondly, my fading enthusiasm for the campaign has made me realise that I have had my fill of classic Orks&Elves&Magic fantasy. I will finish reading A Song of Ice and Fire if Mr Martin ever does release book 4.5 and I could probably be convinced to run a gritty faux-medieval campaign of Burning Wheel but other than that I think  I am done.

It’s Zombies and Spaceships all the way for me now!

Although there is that book about the Necromancer’s Apprentice that I want to write… But that’s a bit different.

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3 thoughts on “An Old Fantasy

  1. Book two of Steve Jackson’s series (Khare – Cityport of Traps) was the first gamebook I ever read, at age 12, from memory. I promptly ended up playing another 30-40 or so from the regular FF series plus Jackson’s own series (after reading around 50 of the old Choose Your Own Adventure series beforehand). Funny, after reading the first FF, CYOA looked like a baby’s toy in comparison (and I promptly never read another CYOA again).

    I never got into the AFF nor the group adventures. The solo adventures were more my interest.

    Now, about that book of yours you want to write, is it a gamebook?

    1. Hey Mr Barnet, thanks for replying!

      Khare was a great book, I’ll have the rhyme from the end of it stuck in my head till the day I die! That’s an impressive ammount of gamebooks to have read. I think I maybe read twenty or so.

      Do you know about Project Aon? It is a website which has taken the entire Lone Wolf series and put them on-line for free (with Joe Dever’s permission). It’s pretty cool and well worth a look.

      As for my own book, it’s a fantasy novel rather than a gamebook although I can see that writing a gamebook would be fun.

  2. How did the rhyme go again? Though tumblers two sealed deep inside. I bid you portals open wide, etc. etc.

    I like seeing the different gamebook mechanics that different gamebook authors use to try an improve the story (and in a sense, make the book closer to a computer game without having to write a computer game. Helpful for those writers who cannot program on a computer. lol.)

    Yes, I’ve seen Project Aon, I’ve been using it to read the first book in the Lone Wolf series. I haven’t read any others yet. Funnily, I never read Lone Wolf as a teen, that series I have only looked into in recent times. A few people have advised me that the series storyline improves the longer the series goes, so I look forward to investigating that myself.

    As far as your comments about writing gamebooks being fun, I can testify to that personally. I wrote heaps of them as a teen, just for my friends at school and family. They quite enjoyed them. (I’ve gone back to the writing in recent times, after a good 15 or so year layoff, as well.)

    After getting into writing gamebooks, going back to writing regular books just doesn’t have the same excitment factor. (I’ve always liked games when I was growing up – board games, computer games, gamebooks etc. so I guess I’ve had a natural leaning towards that type of writing)

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